DRAWING LIFE by fred hatt


Textural Bodypaint

Filed under: Body Art — Tags: , , , — fred @ 01:08

Vivid Dust, 2000, bodypaint and photo by Fred Hatt

Looking through my personal library this week, I came across an old book called “Design by Accident” by James F. O’Brien.  It’s full of ways to incorporate chance and natural phenomena into visual arts and crafts.  Just the Table of Contents makes me feel inspired, so I’ll share it here:

Tree Forms:  trunks and branches formed by the movement of pigments and liquids

Cracks and crackle:  layers in tension

Crawl:  rejection of paint by an incompatible surface

Drip, Dribble, Drop:  Pollock’s discovery and random patterns

Splash and Run:  designs formed by vigorous impact and gravity

Flow and Swirl:  “marble effect”

Wrinkles and Folds:  folding and bending of surfaces

Flowers:  patterns formed by drops of pigment on a coated surface

Max Ernst’s frottage technique and Pollock’s drips, Rorschach’s psychoanalytic ink blots and Hans Jenny’s Cymatics are among the well-known examples of this kind of thing in recent culture, but scenic painters, fabric artists, faux-finish decorators and craftsmen have always used these methods.  It is impossible to control the outcome tightly, but letting go of such control allows the magic of physics to impart its inimitable majesty.

For much of my own work the human body has been my playground, and I’ve used some of these techniques to create textural effects in body painting.  In this post I’ll share several examples.

Splatter, 1997, bodypaint and photo by Fred Hatt

Squeezing paint from squeeze botttles and letting colors run into other colors produces beautiful effects.   In the 1990’s I used to do this kind of body painting as a cabaret act in collaboration with performance artist Sue Doe, using fluorescent paints that glowed under blacklight.  One of our performances at the Blue Angel Cabaret was featured in the HBO series Real Sex episode 25.  I’ll do a whole post about the blacklight performances some day, but for now here’s one image of the squirting technique under blacklight:

Green Snake, 1998, bodypaint and photo by Fred Hatt

And here are the beautiful fluorescent colors running thin as they are cleaned off in the shower:

Rinse, 2002, bodypaint and photo by Fred Hatt

Handprints have been used since the stone age to make dynamic patterns in paint:

Handprints, 1992, bodypaint by Fred Hatt and Jen S., photo by Fred Hatt

When tempera paint dries, it cracks and flakes off.  The crackled texture adds an air of antiquity to this freeform painting:

Fresco, 1996, bodypaint and photo by Fred Hatt

And here, a coat of paint on the body has been rewetted and worn thin, drying with a marbled effect:

Marbled Belly, 1991, bodypaint and photo by Fred Hatt

Sculptors’ clay smeared onto the body dries in a patchy way, depending on local thickness, making fleeting textural patterns:

Wet and Dry, 2002, bodypaint and photo by Fred Hatt

In this one, clay was applied first for texture, and then paint was applied over the rough, earthy surface:

World Egg, 2002, bodypaint and photo by Fred Hatt

In this body painting session, done for a cover illustration for Lauren Stauber‘s haunting CD, Solarheart, the first layer was yellow and red paint, with clay applied over it.  The colors subtly bleed through the dusty clay surface.  Dried flower petals are scattered on top of the body:

Petal Strewn, 1998, bodypaint and photo by Fred Hatt

Here, the model is covered with the dry powdered pigments used in the Hindu spring festival called Holi.  In the festival, which is celebrated in many places in India, and here in New York in Richmond Hill, Queens, celebrants plaster each other with hurled vividly colored powders and liquid colors.

Holi, 1999, bodypaint and photo by Fred Hatt

Here, powdered pigments and bronze powder are used on the body, blended with massage oil:

Jeweled, 1999, bodypaint and photo by Fred Hatt

Here, the front of the body is painted with oil and powdered pigments, and the back with clay and red paint:

Agate, 2002, bodypaint and photo by Fred Hatt

In this one, the first layer is blue paint, with clay applied over that and bronze powder blown across to adhere to the wet areas when the clay is in the patchily dried state as seen in the black and white photo above:

Lapis and Gold, 2001, bodypaint and photo by Fred Hatt

Here’s a combination of the bronze powder with the powdered Holi pigments:

Painted Desert, 2000, bodypaint and photo by Fred Hatt

An important focus of my exploration of body painting is the experience of the person who is painted.  Being painted is often experienced as a bodily transformation, an external experience of the skin that reflects or enables an internal shift of consciousness.  This ritual aspect underlies the importance of body art in shamanic and theatrical performance.  The stark white body paint associated with butoh dance originated with butoh progenitor Tatsumi Hijikata‘s experimentation with using plaster on his dancers’ bodies.  He wished to intensify their movement by making them conscious of the entire expanse of their skin through tightness and discomfort.  Oil, clay, powders and cracked tempera on the skin are tactile sensations that may be experienced as being one with earth or finding one’s wild animal nature.

Animal, 1997, bodypaint and photo by Fred Hatt

I’ll close with a dyptich of textural legs.  In the upper image the paint is done not by the scattering or dripping methods used in many of the pictures above, but by tracing the blood vessels visible through the skin.  The legs in the lower image are painted with blue powder over oil:

Vessels, 2007, bodypaint and photo by Fred Hatt

Gateway, 2006, bodypaint and photo by Fred Hatt

Other body painting, most of it more painterly in approach, can be seen on my portfolio site, or on other posts on this blog under the category “Body Art“.

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